Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DIY spirit struggles to survive in a Lincoln Heights Victorian

Charon Nogues in front of HM 157/Nathan Solis

By Nathan Solis

The driving force behind Historical Monument 157, an old Victorian house in Lincoln Heights that now acts as an artists’ community, is a DIY spirit. Which is why several of the live-in artists are in fundraising mode leading up to HM157’s fifth anniversary. But even as the denizens of HM 157  prepare for this Saturday’s anniversary bash and fundraiser, its members are also struggling to create a sustainable organization and  win the necessary city permits to keep hosting concerts and events that have attracted fans as well as complaints.

There have been hundreds of events and concerts, as well as classes and workshops, at HM157 over the years, along with several noise complaints and a few neighbors who point to the home as a sign of gentrification. Charon Nogues, co-founder of the artist community at HM157, leases the historical home with several of the artists who live on the premises, and she’s a bit tired of having to sneak around with her events, due to a lack of permits.

“We’d have to be a bar or restaurant to get a cabaret license,” Nogues says of the house that sometimes hosts Can-Can dancers or on other nights live music. A laundry list of requirements block HM157 from becoming a full-fledged venue, along with what Nogues says is an antiquated permit system.

“We don’t want to be a bar. We’re trying to talk with people in higher offices, to collaborate and work with us,” says Nogues of HM157.

Originally built circa 1880 and owned by Horace B. Dibble, HM157, a lumbering off-yellow house on Broadway across the street from McDonalds, was designated a historical monument in 1976. When Nogues and her business partner/ex-husband, Reid Maxwell, happened upon the house in 2008 it was being used as a real estate office. They saw the space as more of an artist’s studio and never imagined it would blossom into what it is today.

Which makes it difficult to classify HM157 on paper.

“Folks recognize the new magical mixed use potential in the property that was once derelict,” says Nogues.

A Mexican restaurant sits next to HM157 while its front yard is overgrown with palm fronds and vegetable gardens. During show nights the backyard is converted into a dance floor, with visual projections and music.

“Sometimes we’ll get the neighborhood men with tattoos who don’t know what’s going on, and we’ll invite them in,” says Nogues.

The Michigan native lives in Echo Park and works in a vintage clothing store. But Nogues spends most of her time at HM 157, traveling between her Echo Park home and the Lincoln Heights Victorian on a bicycle with an attached trailer.

Nogues is working with the operators of other venues like 157 to try and change city policy and rules that would allow them to operate legally with the necessary city permits. “We’re trying to change policy without a big budget,” she said.

Nogues and the artists at HM157 understand that this upcoming anniversary show is important, a sort of test to see if the community-at-large thinks of creative spaces that are not sponsored by any particular product or club, but simply paid for by the public who want to have a good time.  Nogues is working on turning HM 157 into a nonprofit to help sustain the the space while money raised at the event will also help pay to fix up the porch, windows and other repairs. “We will not go the way of the DIY-nasaurs,” said the HM 157 website.

Several days before the anniversary fundraiser, Nogues is ecstatic and nervous all at the same time when going over the details of the big show. She pulls out onto Broadway on her bicycle, swoops in between passing cars and is lost in the traffic.’

“This show is big for us. It’s sort of the do or die,” says Nogues.

All who want to attend the party must RSVP via www.hm157.com

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.

Eastsider Advertising


  1. This article symbolizes to me the disconnect between grassroots liberalism and its implementation into the form of bloated and onerous government. At what point will people realize that government impedes the entrepreneurial spirit and pushes people who want to operate in a legit fashion into ordinance violators who are forced to conduct business under the radar of regulators. It like the Raw Milk place in Santa Monica that was raided, or the home breadmaker in Silverlake(at least that guy got help from Mike Gatto). When did Liberals become “the man” they were always fighting against. I haven’t heard a single person who deals with city, county, or state officials who hasn’t had the same types of complaints, but then again I only talk to little guys, never the big shots who donate to political campaigns and have influence among the Democrats in power.

    • Alternately, without government impeding and declaring this building a historical monument, it may have been bulldozed and replaced with a Jiffy Lube years ago.

      That said, I hope they work out a solution with the city to stay open… sounds like a cool spot!

  2. The zoning is C4 so I don’t see that as a problem. What I imagine is the problem is the ADA requirements, restroom requirements, egress requirements among others. There’s only so much the bureaucrats can do and an old house like that is going to be very difficult to bring up to code inany meaningful way to allow for those sorts of events. i can’t imagine that they would be able to get a maximum occupancy that would be anywhere near what they would need and then the neighbors would just have to call the fire marshall whenever there was an event to shut it down.

    • @skr: All I read was requirements, requirements, requirements, followed by, “there is only so much bureaucrats can do”. I’d say they’d done enough already and that is what has brought us to this problem in the first place. I applaud the effort of the folks over at HM157 despite the deck being stacked against them. Preservationists always wonder why the awesome old buildings get torn down and replaced by generic new structures. Well this article and skr’s comments municipal ordinances and requirements gives you insight into why. It takes a lot of money, frustration and perseverance to save these old buildings, and most often that doesn’t equal good business. Five years later, and HM157 is still trying to raise funds to fix the porch and navigate the municipal permitting process. Good luck with that headache!

      • well ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is federal and there is nothing the local politicians can do about it. They need handicap access and a 5 foot turnaround in the restroom for wheelchairs. Since it’s registered they might have a hard time with that what with the change in the character and all. Sometimes registering an historic building makes it very difficult to change it in a way that will allow it to be useful and thus be more easily preserved. You are right that one of the reasons old buildings are replaced is that it is extremely difficult to bring them in line with modern codes. It is almost always cheaper to bulldoze and rebuild. Quite a bit safer as well.

  3. Of course this place is a sign of gentrification. And that’s a GOOD THING. North Broadway can be so much more than what it is today.

  4. LA’s attitude towards unsanctioned culture centers is a travesty. Real arts and culture- the kind that sustain a city’s reputation as an interesting and vital place- is fomented in spots like HM157, not in strip malls and museums. Sounds like what they need is Patronage- maybe a rich weirdo to help with the speedbumps?

Post a Comment

Please keep your comments civil and on topic and refrain from personal attacks. The moderator reserves the right to edit or delete any comments. The Eastsider's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy apply to comments submitted by readers. Required fields are marked *